The Dilbert® Life Series – White Collar Blues in Corporate Culture

It’s unbelievable how awfully bad a lot of methodologies, regulations, evaluations, and planning and audit systems are implemented and used. While this might seem to be just your average, run of the mill Kafka red tape, the outcome is often disastrous to the workplace. This is quite the opposite of what they are supposed to achieve: effective and efficient high quality results that are delivered as fast as possible without sacrificing any the above mentioned qualities. An added benefit would be a stimulating and happy work environment leading to motivated personnel thus achieving the ultimate productive workplace Walhalla. More than people and organizations like to admit unfortunately, this theory flies in the face of reality. Organizations become cesspools of demotivation, incompetence and careerism at its worst. Often the real (Machiavellian) objective seems to enslave employees by coercion, fear, passiveness and immobility in order to turn them into little mignons. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what writing vast amounts of mind numbing documents and reports achieves. In other words meet “Office Space”.

Bureaucratic red tape is one thing. Adding over the top, ill understood and badly implemented regulations & frameworks will sink any organization faster than a well-placed torpedo sinks a ship. Any hope of ever improving the results, motivate people and stimulate innovation are either killed instantly or drowned slowly. You end up with a worthless bureaucratic malfunctioning organization run by mediocre management, hiring mediocre people producing, at best, mediocre results. Your organizations agility, decisiveness, innovation and creativity are dead. You might as well have sent hit men to get it over and done with.  Are you even at least still thinking about your customers or clients needs somewhere in that situation?

Very often no one ever reads the documentation and reports that audits, evaluations and regulatory mechanisms demand. If they are being read, sometimes they are used to help an organization improve itself. But they are also read and misused to badmouth, reprimand, control and even coerce organizations and people into submission to further other less noble agendas. Look at the mess the global finance world is in. No one can deny we have more legislation, regulation, control mechanisms and audits than ever before and how are they used and what is the result? And it’s nobody’s fault or mistake; they all have tons of paperwork to document anything and everything you want.

Now let’s be crystal clear about this. There is a real need for regulation, evaluation, audits, policies and methodologies. And yes, that comes with its share of bureaucracy. But it has to be done right and with honesty in its purpose. Unfortunately the excessive nature of the perverse sublimations of these mechanisms on the work floor are enough to make one think tar and feathers or even guillotines did and do serve a genuine purpose. This is especially true if your job turns out to be a one where the only thing that can keep you from going insane is the fact that you’re a lunatic. Furthermore have any of those people ever caught on to the idea that creativity, flexibility and innovation needs a little chaos? Do they really think that you can put flexibility and creativity in a process that can be orderly reported on and audited? Sure they have, but the consultancies selling processes and services can’t bottle creativity, flexibility and real innovation. They deal in shrink wrapped products, so you’ll never hear them advice against their own bottom line. It’s hard enough to get any real work done in an office today as it is. Ah, the joys of landscape noise yards, and endless series of meetings, interruptions by way to many people busy filling out forms who needing input. Add to that architects and advisors who seem to suffer “idea diarrhea” and whose “easy and fast” implementations only fail because those operational employees just “don’t get it”. Middle management does all this in a vanity attempt to demonstrate their worth and avoid true responsibility. Sadly they only achieve quite the opposite and if management let’s ‘m get away with this, you now also have a good idea about the quality of your managers.

So what do all these mechanism truly achieve? Based on my observation of too many colleagues and acquaintances in their work environments I’ll report my findings. Well for one, as stated above, they are great tools for assimilation, compliance and submission to the power players. Everyone knows that many audits quickly become a mere bundle of check lists you need to have. You learn that evaluations are meaningless obligations and planning documents often seem to be more of an “after action report” than actual planning. This is truly perfect in a way. After all compliance is bliss and it’s far easier to achieve this with neatly organized forms and retroactive or revisionist “planning”. Trust me; your paperwork will look great.

Why do we go along with this crap? Because it’s easy, that’s why. That feeling of comfort we get by falling into simple routines seduces us. The path of least resistance is to become an expert paper pusher and methodology whore. No one will criticize you for making the best reports ever, with a keen eye for form and adherence to protocol. In return you get to enjoy the benefits of a predigested workload and you won’t have to work too hard. It’s so much easier to close your eyes. To me this is like freezing to death, you give up and go to sleep to be greeted by a false sense of warmth.

I also see people get demotivated and become cynical survivalists, which is the best outcome for them. Worse is the systemized destruction of productivity and ability to compete but I guess that’s far less important than it seems. That “free market” and result driven meritocracy probably isn’t as free and valuable as we are led to believe. The loss of productivity is plain to see by the way. If you have a 40 hour work week and now they add constant reporting, auditing, adherence to methodologies and policies to your workload, how much work are you actually doing? The reports and numbers become your prime concern. Sure they say that’s not how it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately it often turns out this way. Even more “cynical” is the fact that the most incompetent, underperforming, self-serving employees and managers thrive in these systems. Now this is a reality in any system but the farce here is that all this bureaucratic crap was supposed to reduce that likelihood. In that aspect it’s one big fail. Badly used audits, reports, evaluations and planning documents are not a very good indicator whether people are doing a good job. What they are excellent for is finding out who’s able to market themselves, either individually or as an organization, as impressive examples of professional excellence. They empower career hunting conformists and thus cultivate mediocrity. Some of the best people out there suck at the paperwork. Why? Well when you’re working 40 hours a week you don’t have the time to do it. If you still have to do it becomes overtime. And that’s the extra time you used to have to study and learn, to become a better professional. In other words your best people are forced to work harder and put in more time, which means that take a huge pay cut. To add injury to insult those systems “meant to help them” are psychologically harassing them. You drain your personnel’s motivation and energy away by simply abusing them. The ones who fill out the forms perfectly are the ones working 20 hours a week and then spending the rest of their time presenting those 20 hours as sublime feats of their expertise and creative endeavor. They have long recognized that when you put things on paper they come in existence without effort; far more so than if you really create them doing actual work. This is the so called “fake it until you make it” method. The system promotes underperforming, risk-free, easy work without responsibility and it attracts the kind of employees who seek to be submissive little mignons in return for a pay check and peace of mind and perhaps even a promotion. Is that what it takes to build a “state of the art” organization? Are you even at least still thinking about your customers needs?

People try to survive by threating that crap as a necessary evil. But make no mistake, in the end they will give up and will leave. The leave physically or mentally, i.e. they become under performers or cynical zombies soaking in apathy as their last line of defense. As I told my boss once: “You shouldn’t be afraid that your employees might leave. You need to be afraid when you fear your employees will stay”.

Unless you have a real low IQ or you’re blissfully ignorant, when you live the lie, you become the lie. A lot of people in the workplace are in a world of hurt. They survive thanks to their conformity and submission. Look people, you’re married, divorced, perhaps remarried and your live is complicated. You’re in debt. You have car payments, house payments, alimony payments, gas & electricity bills, insurance payments, kids to support, etc. And you really need to take a holiday to get ways from all that shit in a desperate effort to maintain your sanity. In other words you’re up shit creek. The day you start living the truth in your job you’ll become and undesired nuisance and, inevitably, an unemployed middle aged “nonproductive member of society”. Because when you’re job hunting with no real skills except for filling out paperwork and submitting to the lie what are you good for? Look, they can train 24 year olds to do that, for far less money. Sure you have a very impressive resume as an expert advisor, a senior architect, but you know what, they’re on to you. You see, they all have very impressive resumes and they all worked at the same places where people are hiding in the mass whilst pretending to be awesome and hoping desperately nothing will expose them as frauds. It’s a shared lie. Put ‘m among the real experts and see how well they can keep a rich and stimulating professional conversation going.

My advice? Start thinking! If you don’t, you’ll end up not even being allowed and capable to think and speak as you see fit. Whose fault is this? Yours. You submit and in return you get a job, an income and the illusion of security. And you are so desperately in need of that. Because you are a slave to debt and conformity, a victim of your own fears. So stop being afraid and get a grip unless you want to wind up like some humanoid battery in “The Matrix”. Be warned however, they’ll hire some consultant called Mr. Smith to get you “back on track”, but he actually thinks that you are a disease and he’s the cure.

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